ESPN’s New Streaming Service Lands Portion of UFC TV Rights for $150 Million Per Year

Disney-owned cable channel will also air some of MMA major league’s events — but plenty is left for another partner

The UFC lightweight championship in 2018 (Ed Mulholland/Getty Images)

ESPN has agreed to a deal with UFC for a portion of its TV rights that will put 15 matches on its newly-launched streaming service beginning in 2019.

The deal will cost ESPN $150 million each year, a person with knowledge of the deal told TheWrap. 

The 15 matches covered in the agreement account for only a portion of the pricey rights for the mixed-martial arts league, leaving around 25 or so for another TV or streaming partner. Last month, TheWrap reported the UFC was considering divvying up its rights between multiple partners. The UFC has aired on Fox Sports since 2011.

“UFC is a premier global sports property with legions of incredibly avid fans.  We are excited to be able to bring their world-class events and content to ESPN+ and the ESPN networks. This agreement shows the commitment we have to delivering fans the very best across our entire platform,” said Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN president and co-chairman, Disney Media Networks.

The deal marks the biggest move for ESPN under its new structure, with Pitaro as president and Kevin Mayer as chairman of Disney’s new direct-to-consumer and international business segment.

ESPN launched ESPN+, the company’s biggest play in the streaming space, in April. The $5-per-month service up until now featured a daily MLB game, a daily NHL game beginning next season, plus a variety of other smaller leagues including Major League Soccer and international sports. While the UFC’s TV ratings have declined in recent years, it does provide a younger fan base that could make sense for ESPN’s streaming product. The UFC said millennials account for 40 percent of its audience and its median viewer is 40 years old.

“One of our goals for ESPN+ is to bring sports fans of all genres content they love and are passionate about, and this agreement with UFC is illustrative of exactly that,” said Mayer, in a statement. “We look forward to providing UFC’s enthusiastic, growing fan base with a wide array of live events and building a lasting relationship with the industry leader in mixed martial arts.”

In addition to live matches, ESPN+ will get new seasons of “Dana White’s Contender Series,” an all-access series from IMG Original Content, countdown shows, weigh-ins and archive programming.

The deal extends other ESPN platforms, most notably with a 30-minute preview show on ESPN’s TV networks, along with hundreds of hours of library programming and re-airs of pay-per-view events.

Tony Maglio contributed to this report.